Success in commercial real estate requires a unique blend of skills, perseverance, and a willingness to take risks. In this episode, we sit down with Joe Killinger, a true master of the craft, to learn what it takes to thrive in this dynamic industry. Joe is an agent, investor, syndicator, founder, and operator of companies as well as properties he invests in. He shares his own journey of getting in the industry, the lessons he’s learned along the way, and some of his top tips for building a successful real estate business. He also explores the keys to understanding the markets and being successful in this competitive industry. From overcoming obstacles to building strong client relationships, Joe shares his hard-won wisdom and insights on how to truly succeed in commercial real estate. Whether you’re a seasoned investor or just starting out, you won’t want to miss this episode. Tune in now and discover what it takes to kill it in commercial real estate.
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Killing It In Commercial Real Estate With Joe Killinger
In this episode, we have Joe Killinger as a guest. Joe, it’s nice to have you on.
Thank you for having me on. I look forward to this.
We are excited about it too. Tell us about what you do.
I do a few things. I’ve been a real estate entrepreneur for a lot of years. I’m a partner at commercial brokers international in Los Angeles. We also are an investor. We’re focused on triple-net deals around the country. We bring investors together, syndicate them, and we keep acquiring and looking at deals. For the most part, being a little bit more particular, we’re mostly looking in Texas, Florida, and Southern California. We found some good deals for California as well.
We use JoeKillinger.co to help people that want to get into the real estate investment community or want to become real estate agents. We give them the path to do that. Now if you go on this website, you’re going to find there’s also a YouTube channel we post. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we do Shorts. Tuesday and Thursday, we do long videos. We focus on education, either brokerage or investment.
How long have you been in real estate? Have you always lived in California because you said you are focusing on Texas? Is that because you snipped out the deals?
I’ve been doing this for a long time. I have been in this office for many years. My business partner George, we’ve been many years in this business.
You got the experience. You always have a love for real estate.
I grew up on a farm in Nebraska. A while back Nebraska has a population of 281,000. The dating pool was pretty shallow.
You got me beat. I grew up in a small town too, but it was more than 200,000.
I still go back every year, the hometown rodeo, and then a Christmas. I love it. I miss it. It’s amazing. As you get older, you think, “Can I live back there again?” I have been in Los Angeles this long. I got started in the business because my father was an auctioneer. He started off auctioneering and livestock equipment. He did some land as well then he moved into real estate and started killing her auction and real estate in St. Paul, Nebraska. I was off in college when he did that.
I didn’t get to see much of it, but it piqued my interest. He helped me make a connection in Woods Bros Realty in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I was going to school. I got to hang out in that office and get to know the business. I was only eighteen years old. I have a lot of questions. If you can imagine an annoying eighteen-year-old running around your office.
Everybody was kind and let me do it. I got the proverbial from the guy that owned the company. He brought in a phone book. He goes, “Do you think you’re a good person?” I said, “I think so.” You got to remember, I’m eighteen, hair apart style, got some clear reading glasses so it made me look a little bit older. I look back now with a joke, but his thing was, “These people need to hear from. Start cold calling.” I asked the agents in the office, “How did you start?” I just opened that book and started cold calling. I was horrible.
You learned a lot.
Fortunately, I was working on farms and ranches. Those farmers and ranchers give the wife a lot. I would learn a lot from them. They take time but listen to me. They go out not great. He learned more but I am typical Midwest, “You just keep trying.” After that, I moved to California in ’85. I had that bug of real estate. I got my real estate license and started working as an assistant in a residential office. I quickly learned that residential probably wasn’t my thing and moved into some development in some commercial real estate.
I work in a company in Los Angeles and my now business partner George was in the same big company at that time. They went public, they did their IPO. They got accomplished some numbers in the IPO, so the late middle management off. I ended up under George in his department, then he ended up laying me off. I hold a grudge every day. We were in our late twenties. We started an auction company then in Los Angeles. We took that auction company and no experience as a cobbled-up group of people. They brought in a lot of residential agents in Georgia and myself had auction experience. We took that to be the number two auction company in the Western region within eighteen months. We were busy cold calling. We got the little map. When first came out, we had to run the entire company off of that.
Was it the lessor or the two GS?
I have no idea, but if I still own that thing, it will be worth something. After that, I realized George is going to handle the back end and learn how to do all the computer stuff because there was no way in hell I was going to do all that. That’s what he does now. He handles all the paperwork and gets back into the office.
Not to get off topic, but the first iPhone was $300 back in the day. Had you invested $300 in Apple stock versus buying the $300 iPhone? Your return on investment would have been 1,000-fold.
When we first got a cell phone, our phone bills is $400, $500 and $700. Remember the little flip? It was a great phone flip.
That leads me to my next question. You’re on the phone and you’re making deals. You move from Nebraska to California because you had that bug. How big is networking in your business? At the time you got $800 cell phone bills, those are minutes being talked on. Talk to me about networking.
Your network is your net worth in this business. You’ve got to be mixing. I’m part of what’s called the Commercial Real Estate Influencer Summit. Ken Ashley is the CEO. He founded it, but it’s 150 commercial real estate agents from around the country that get together every year. They talk about all the tips and tricks that have worked well for them, and they share the experience, “This is what we’re selling in my mark.” Surrounding yourself with people like that that are willing to share that knowledge grows your business. This is going to be our third year in Florida.
It’s like a mastermind for commercial real estate.
We have people that from TikTok and a couple of agents, like Eddie Gonzalez, Kyle and Sarah. They are killing it on TikTok. You wouldn’t think a commercial real estate agent be making doing that well on that, but they are.
How’s your TikTok game?
I was terrible at it. I’m on it but I’ll capture Shorts and I posted from there. It works for people. I have no rhythm so I can’t dance or sing. It’s a great space, but still, they show us how to help grow your Tiktok. I’m more focused on our YouTube channel because that’s where I’m having the most luck helping people that want to work in our industry brokerage.
What do you do to help someone?
Without giving away the recipe.
I’ll give you the recipe. I tell you what works and what doesn’t work, just like everybody in the CREi Summit. Back when we got started and we were sitting there cold calling on developers and all that for an auction company, the fundamentals were phone and postcard or a letter. We ran phone calls all morning long. We’d start back East Coast. At the end of the day, by 3:00, we’d be calling on Hawaii, then we have to stop, write out letters and do the letter, print the letters, put their name on it, and then sign at the bottom, fold them up and send them out every night for every contact we have.
The fundamentals are a lot easier, but I think we’ve had 11 or 12 years of upcycling right away from fundamentals. I’m trying to get everybody that wants to be either a real estate broker, agent, or investor to go back to the fundamentals, doing your cold calling, your digital marketing, and email program networking. You got to do it all. The opportunity is there. We had an office meeting and I couldn’t believe how much business we’ve got. We’re a smaller company. We’ve got fourteen agents. We’re a full-service brokerage but I’m just shocked at the amount of business we’ve got going through this little company.
My wife is in escrow here in San Diego. With the market and everything, these agents were doing well and the market cooled off. I’m glad to know that your office is still killing it. That’s amazing.
The bigger company is going to make it come and you’re going to do multifamily or office. We try and get you to have an asset class that you’re focused on, but it will save you doing multifamily. We focus on multifamily but know how to do an office lease or a retail lease because I can guarantee you, if you’ve been in the business for a while, you’re going to be out to dinner and somebody goes, “I want to sublease my property out. I want a bigger or smaller office.”
Why give that up? If you’re in the big term, you have to. In our company, we do training Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:00 for almost 1 hour. We train you in all aspects of the industry. That’s key. We’re looking for entrepreneurs in this industry. If you’re making them do one thing, you’re handcuffing an entrepreneur. Give them tools and the knowledge to go out and be successful and focused on.
You have to. You said you’re having a lot of agents and the business that you’re generating is great. Have you had a spike in interest given post-pandemic that people are trying to get into the real estate market or the commercial real estate space? Have you seen an up hike?
What I’m seeing now is, because the commercial is a little harder to get into, residents calling and saying, “I want to come in and do commercial.” I tell them, “In the first 18 to 24 months, you are going to be in the office 8:30 to 5:30. You’re not going to come in for an hour and then go home and work from home. You need to be adhering to the training. You need to be part of the team.” Because we’ll sit down and do training and we’ll have lunch together often, that will break into training such.
I can take somebody who’s been in the business for six months. They’ll be getting ready to start making some pretty good money because they now know the market. It’s fun to see them realize that we put all these walls up and, “This is difficult,” in our own head. If you give me somebody who has a great and positive work ethic, and they’re not afraid to go out and do the work, you’re a problem-solver entrepreneur, you can train real estate. What I can’t train is the work. I struggle with residential agents coming into commercial because it’s a completely different business. I’ve got a couple that are very good, but I had to strip a lot of that residential stuff away and go, “This is what you
Commercial Real Estate: People with great work ethic are not afraid to go out and do work. They’re a problem solver, an entrepreneur. You can train real estate, but you can’t train work ethic.
I used to play college basketball and I dip my toes through a little professional basketball. It goes back to what you said. There are guys that have the measurables 6’10, 245 and he’s got long arms. He’s got all these measurables but the one thing you cannot measure is the size of his heart. When he’s in the game and the lights are on, how is he going to perform? Is he going to become a shell of who he is or is he going to compete? Finding that is measurable.
There’s so much negative news out there that everybody is a little unsure of what’s coming. Being in the office every day, I had a 3,500-square-foot gym space, and somebody emailed, “We want to expand our gym. We think it’s a good time.” One of our agents was like, “I’ve got that.” She’s working the lead. The business is out there now. The office is going to be a little bit hard. You’re seeing a lot of that still come on the market, but overall, the business is there.
That’s what I was going to ask you, post-pandemic where it become not a norm, but to work from home. Companies are allowing employees to work from home 3 or 4 days out of the week, maybe 1 or 2 or whatever the case may be. Coming out of the pandemic and the locks of, “You need to be in the office,” how is that affecting commercial real estate if it is at all?
I can only speak to our company. The newer people we require to be in the office, I’ll tell them, “18 to 24 months, 8:30 to 5:30. If you can’t do it, I understand, but that’s what we need.” Commercial real estate is a little bit different because the company pays for all the tools. Every agent has about $650 per month per agent. At one site, we give him at least five, plus we have a marketing team, plus test leads and all that, so I’m spending thousands of dollars a month.
Some of our more experienced agents are working from home, but the transition for them was a little slow, but they got to go in now. Newer agents we require them to be. If they say, “I want to work from home part-time,” I wish them luck because I can’t invest in them. What they’re going to do is they’re going to come up with a question and call me. If they’d have been in class or at lunch, we’d had it done. They had the answer. Now I got to change my time. George, our CEO, does classes three days a week. Of you put his time into that and that’s three hours per week minimum that he’s training, that’s a lot of money and free education.
If we’re willing to give that plus all the tools, it’s an even swap. In our company, we give generous commissions. We started with 55% but you can get up to 80%. Half of most people in the industry are because I think with our training. If you get to where you’re making 65%, 70% or 80%, there’s going to be two people you don’t need very much. It’s going to be myself and George, our CEO. You’ll be doing your deals. That’s worth it because then you can take that extra money, go out and hire a junior or somebody else to help you like an assistant. That’s why we do that. It helps us grow our business. It’s helped a lot of our agents.
Commercial Real Estate: Giving proper education and high commissions not only helps your agents, but also helps your business to grow.
Do you have an office in Texas somewhere?
Not right now. I launched Icon Capital. It’s a new mortgage company. We booked the launch date and we nailed the date that the interest rates went up three-quarters of a point. We have an affiliate network. With our marketing, we deal with our company. We bring people in from around the globe. We brought in Lorna Jane from Australia. They moved everybody here and Fortify Fitness came from New Zealand. They are corporate. Circa Lighting came from Germany.
They all came here. They want to be in the LA market and it was great, but they said, “We want to move across the country.” We’re like, “We can’t do that.” This was years ago. We ended up having to give them away to a big firm that can handle them. That hurt as you can imagine. During a pandemic, we’re sitting around going, “What we should do is call on the affiliate network and see if we can join one.” They were crazy expensive.
What did we do since we were bored out of our minds sitting in the office just by ourselves, we launched the CRE affiliate network. We have a full-service independent brokerage company from around the country. We signed on Israel, Bangalore, Toronto, and London. We got a few internationals as well.
They’re all full-service independent brokers. The way it works is, if I refer a deal to them, it’s a 20% referral fee back and that’s it. It has grown. We get such good people involved. I was in Dallas. I was meeting with them, and they said, “Why don’t you work from our office when you’re here?” We have a corporate con that we keep there. If I want to go to Florida, Chicago or New York, I can cozy in one of their offices and work for a while.
Youtube channel is where I have people that come on and talk to us. I look to add value to people that I get day to day. Our agent’s questions like, “That is something that a newer agent should know, or even more experienced agents.” Opportunity’s own investing. I’ve got a meeting about that I’m going to record. This guy is doing very well with it. That’s for more experienced agents and investors. We’re always looking to bring value. The website has tools that people can use. It has books that people can go on and buy that are recommended by real estate investors or real estate agents and all the tools you can think of. We keep adding as much as we can.
Do you offer a mentoring or a coaching program?
I don’t, but I still end up doing it. I’m all for mentoring. I do think that if you’re thinking about getting into brokerage, you need to find a good mentor. I can try if it’s going to be somebody here in the United States. I’m happy to help try and find a mentor for somebody, but a good mentor can take months off of making money so you can make money so much faster.
The key that I’ve learned is that if you’re looking for a good mentor, bring the mentor value. If you’re somebody that you’ve got to guide that person that’s doing multifamily and they’re doing the cold calls, mailers and maybe some emails, say, “Let me put you on social media. Let me help you grow your business. I know how to do that.” It’s a two-way street. You’re both getting something for it. Bring value to them because they’re going to bring value to you.
That is very true. You both have something to offer.
Mentoring is pretty amazing. People have been having a few residential agents want to get into commercial. I’ve been working through the process. They’re catching on to it pretty quickly. I do the initial half-hour conversation. I usually do fifteen minutes every two weeks, then figure out, “Did you get this done? What were the results and see where they’re at.” You’d be amazed how many people don’t look at their analytics on their social networks or email programs. They go in and look at those analytics, they can learn so much about what’s working well for them.
Commercial Real Estate: You’d be amazed how many people don’t look at their analytics on their social networks or their email programs.
How many agents did you say you have in your brokerage house?
Fourteen. We are hiring way out there in Los Angeles if they want to be a commercial broker or you’re in a firm that is not giving you the entrepreneurial lead that you need. We’re always looking for good people. I’m looking for entrepreneurs. The affiliate network, for example. Everybody was overcharging a $50,000 or $100,000 annual fee, plus every time you close the deal. Ours is simple. You refer and I receive a referral if it gets a deal happens. I’m trying to keep it simple.
Before we close it up, do you have anything that you want to let our readers know?
As a real estate agent or investor, you have to be prepared. I get many people that call because they want to get into the real estate business. We’re not missing out on YouTube videos for real estate people. Get on and check it out. It’s a great business. It’s hard to get started both as a brokerage and as an investor, but there’s a lot of opportunity to educate yourself.
I had a call with a broker. He’s a CEO of a major company back in the East. He goes, “I’ve got a hard stop in fifteen minutes because I want to jump on this class with some of our newer agents. I need to brush up on some of this stuff because I haven’t dealt with it for years.” Never stop learning. You never can. It changes. I’m sure you guys have seen some of this stuff one LA, but we’ve got a lot of stuff. It’s affecting multifamily, and it’s changing every week. There’s something new and you have to understand how that’s going to affect your business.
I’m in a continuing education course about artificial intelligence and how it can affect digital marketing companies and agencies. You can never stop learning.
I walked out to our marketing department because I scared the hell out of myself. I’m listening to a podcast and this guy goes, “AI is going to ruin your SEO.” I’m like, “The many years of SEO gone,” then we got on the phone. It’s something we’re trying to figure out how will it affect SEO. If AI knows exactly what, where and how you want it, there’s not going to need to be a search. I don’t know. We’re training on how can we be ahead of the curve on it.
There are many AI platforms or programs that you can find on the internet that can help you do the little task and cut it down. They’re telling you it’s to assist you. It’s not to take over the world, but you’ve got to stay up with the times and evolve with any industry.
What we tell our newer people is, “If I’ve got somebody that has been in business in five years and they’re multifamily, all they’re doing is cold calling in that area. Maybe sending some mailers, if you’re still sending mailers. I don’t know if you’re having luck with it.” In LA, I can tell you, it doesn’t work, but in any other markets, it does. If you’re somebody that knows how to do social and you’re targeting that market, plus you’re doing the cold calling, emails, and all that, you will take over that market very quickly because people are going to get to know you a lot more. Bring value every time you do it, people are going to want your information. I think it’s a real opportunity for younger people to get into this industry and spread their wings. They can make a lot of money.
If you want to make a lot of money, then go to JoeKillinger.co and hit him up. He’s hiring right now. He’s been at it for decades. He’s a valuable resource.
This is our 3rd or 4th downturn. We are telling our agents what was coming in November and December, “If January is what you’re going to see, January and February are layoffs.” They think, “You’re so negative.” I’m like, “Hold on and see what happens.” Coming in January, they are like, “You’re right.” I am a little long in this industry, but I love it. I love teaching and working in it. I love meeting new people like you guys who can help us spread the word.
We’re happy to have you on and we’re happy to have you back too.
Thank you so much.
Thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure for you to be on and give your two cents. We would love to have you back. If you need to find Joe, just Google Joe Killinger. We’ll talk to you soon.
About Joe Killinger
Entrepreneur-Investor-Founder-Youtuber-Real Estate Content Creator, using my personal experience as well as interviews with leaders in the industry, from brokers, investors, developers, marketing specialists and economic experts, focusing on Brokerage, Investing & Entrepreneurship – DM or Instagram- @joekillinger youtube-https://www.youtube.com/c/JoeKillinger